2021 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist for Transgender Fiction
2020 Toronto Book Awards Finalist
“The Subtweet is affecting, unnerving, empowering, and often truly LOL.” Foreword Reviews, starred review
“A beautifully crafted novel about race, music, and social media.” Booklist
Includes an exclusive free soundtrack
Celebrated multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel is a no-holds-barred examination of the music industry, social media, and making art in the modern era, shining a light on the promise and peril of being seen.
Indie musician Neela Devaki has built a career writing the songs she wants to hear but nobody else is singing. When one of Neela’s songs is covered by internet artist RUK-MINI and becomes a viral sensation, the two musicians meet and a transformative friendship begins. But before long, the systemic pressures that pit women against one another begin to bear down on Neela and RUK-MINI, stirring up self-doubt and jealousy. With a single tweet, their friendship implodes, a career is destroyed, and the two women find themselves at the centre of an internet firestorm.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Neela Devaki was an original.
She was reminded of this fact shortly after she stepped out of her cab and into the Fairmont Hotel, the main site for the North by Northeast Festival. Zipping through the masses of musicians, fans and industry reps, she felt sorry for the chandeliers, which loomed above like golden flying saucers, forced to light up the dull networking that buzzed beneath them. But a conversation between two art students, draped in curated thrift wear featuring strategically placed rips and holes, brought Neela to a reluctant halt.
“I was totally working on something like this for my final project. I guess originality really is dead,” one of the women sighed, taking photos of herself, duck-faced with a pop-up art installation.
Neela skimmed the artist’s statement. The frosted toothpick statues of penises were “a comment on the current global epidemic of white demasculinization.” Why not just hang a red and white flag that said Make Art Great Again? Brevity was the true endangered species.
“You should still do it. All the good ideas are taken anyways. Isn’t that kind of freeing?” replied the other.
Neela snorted. She would never offer that sort of “comfort” to a stunted peer. No wonder she was bored with most of the art she encountered.
She considered sharing with these young women that she always knew she was on the verge of invention at the precise moment when originality felt impossible. That instead of surrendering to despair, she would needle in and out and through her brain until an idea surfaced naked, stripped of predictability and familiarity. That this process often required her to sing a phrase over and over for hours until the syllables carved their own unique melody out of hollow air. She was certain that the reiteration planted the words in her vocal chords so that when she sang them, they carried the imprint of her body. By embedding herself into her song, she muted any risk of passing off mimicry as art. Why wasn’t fully committing to creation more desirable than observing what everyone else was doing and doing the same?
But defending the sanctity of originality to strangers at an art exhibit would make her seem like an egomaniac. And no one listens to a cocksure woman.
Reading Group Guide
The Subtweet Discussion Questions
- Neela thinks, “No one listens to a cocksure woman.” How did you respond to her confidence? Do you think you would respond differently if she were a man? Can you think of positive representations of confident women in pop culture?
- The Subtweet is an intertextual book, with song lyrics, tweets, emails, texts, critical theory, and news stories. How did these other kinds of communication affect your reading? How do you approach them differently in real life?
- There are very few men and white people in The Subtweet , and the few who do appear are satirized. Why do you think the author made this choice, and how did it affect your reading of the book?
- Are cover songs art? How should we acknowledge various creators who contributed to a work? Whose labour is often overlooked in the creation of a song or a book? Is that labour art?
- Most of the book switches between two narrators. What useful perspective does this give you? How does it make you see events differently? In the book’s third section, the narrator shifts to first person. What did you think of this switch?
- What do you think this book says about call-out culture? What has been your experience of call-out culture? Where can it be beneficial and where can it be harmful?
- The Subtweet contains both a desire to be seen and a fear of it. How does social media intensify this? Is being seen riskier for some people than for others?
- The Subtweet is a book without romantic relationships. In what ways is Neela and Rukmini’s friendship like a romance? Can you think of other novels without any romantic relationships whatsoever? When Neela creates Selfhood is she experiencing romance with herself?
- Sumi remains unapologetic about her article and claims she simply reported the facts. Do you agree with her? Do you think she’s being completely honest with herself?
- What do you think of Neela and Kasi’s performance of “Wanting” at the end of the novel? How does it tie in the other women?
- Why do you think the author chose not to bring back Rukmini after the subtweet? Do you think Neela and Rukmini ever reconcile?
- Subaltern Speaks’s song “Wanting” contains the line “wanting is dangerous.” Why is wanting dangerous? Is it more dangerous for women, for people of colour?
- Consider the epigraph: how does capitalism affect the events of the story?
- What’s more important: the creation of art of the interpretation of art? How important is the audience?